President Barack Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by telephone on Thursday afternoon, two days after his party won a sweeping victory in national elections.
The White House had said he would wait until Israel’s president asked Netanyahu to form a coalition government, in keeping with past practice.
On Wednesday morning as Likud party partisans cheered in Tel Aviv, Obama’s political strategy director David Simas stopped short of congratulating Netanyahu in a TV interview, only patting Israelis on the back ‘for the democratic process – for the election that they just engaged in.’
Netanyahu spent part of Thursday moving politically in the White House’s direction, though, clearing the way for a face-saving call from Obama.
The White House shortly after 5:00 p.m. distributed a ‘readout’ of the phone call, givign reporters a sanitized and muted version of what was said.
‘President Obama spoke today by telephone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate the Prime Minister on his party’s success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats,’ the readout said.
‘The President emphasized the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries. The President and the Prime Minister agreed to continue consultations on a range of regional issues, including the difficult path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’
The statement continued: ‘The President reaffirmed the United States’ long-standing commitment to a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine.’
‘On Iran, the President reiterated that the United States is focused on reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and verifiably assures the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program.’
Netanyahu had said in a pair of Thursday television appearances that the Obama administration’s insistence on letting Iran keep some of the centrifuges it uses to purify nuclear materials might ultimately produce a deal ‘that we could live with.’
That unexpected statement came in a Fox News Channel interview conducted by anchor Megyn Kelly. A blueprint drawn up in Switzerland this week would allow Tehran to keep 6,000 centrifuges spinning uranium.
‘This deal would leave Iran with sufficient capability, 6,000 centrifuges, enable them to break out to a bomb very quickly,’ Netanyahu said. ‘If I had my druthers, if Israel had a seat on the table, I would say “zero centrifuges.” But I don’t have a seat on the table.’
‘And if I can impress on the negotiating parties, I would say what our Arab neighbors say. “Get a symbolic number – and 6,000 is certainly not symbolic – that’s an agreement we wouldn’t like but we could live with,” I said, literally.’
Asked separately by NBC News host Andrea Mitchell if he was would ‘accept some nuclear centrifuges’ in Iran, he answered, ‘I would.’
‘A smaller number would be something that Israel and its Arab neighbors wouldn’t love but they could live with,’ he told Mitchell, echoing his comments to Kelly.
Mitchell’s interview aired on MSNBC and will be rebroadcast in part on NBC Nightly News.
‘The most important thing,’ Netanyahu cautioned, ‘is that the lifting of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would depend on Iran’s change of behavior, that it would stop supporting terrorism, stop its aggression against just about every country in the region, and stop calling and threatening the annihilation of Israel.’
Netanyahu also said on ‘The Kelly File’ that he never ruled out Palestinian statehood before his Likud party’s sweeping victory in Tuesday’s elections.
And he pushed back against the White House’s complaint that his rhetoric this week was anti-Arab and ‘divisive.’
He had warned his countrymen that Likud’s dominance in Israel’s Knesset – it’s parliament – was in danger because ‘the Arabs are voting in droves.’
Netanyahu insisted that the idea that he worsened Arab-Israeli rifts is ‘just not true.’
‘I warned of foreign money coming in to selectively put out – just try to bring out supporters of a list that includes Islamists and other factions that oppose the State of Israel. Supported actually, this list was supported by Hamas.’
Read more: dailymail.co.uk